So, I hit a downswing last week.  I warned you at the start, didn’t I?  That sometimes things would go sideways because sometimes my brain decides to shake itself all out of balance and all I can do is hold on for the ride?  Well, sometime last week, apparently my happy brain chemicals decided to check out for a while and here I am in a downswing.

They’re all different, at least for me.  I’ve never been inside anybody else’s head, of course, but for me, every round of depression is different.  Sometimes they’re violent and frightening, like a storm in my head and I’m never more than a half-breath away from breaking out sobbing.  Sometimes they’re so subtle, so sneaky I don’t even realize I’ve slipped into Downswing Bizarro World until they let up and I look around and go “huh, that’s different.”  Sometimes they’re insidious, with a hundred little voices filling up my thoughts, pretending to be me, pretending to speak truth, and telling me every second every awful thing they can come up with to cut into me.  Sometimes they’re more physical, the symptoms manifesting like a cold or PMS, and I’m just tired and achey and not sleeping and everything else like being down with a cold minus the cold.

This one has been part physical and part mental.  The physical aspect has been draining. My energy reserves have been low no matter how much sleep I got or how much I ate or how much I rested between other things.  It was an effort, mental and physical, to get up and do something, anything, and then an impossibility to do more than one; I’d sit back down and have to start all over again.

The mental part has been some mix of the constant voice of self-hate and a propensity to be easily overwhelmed and need to escape.  Which was kind of terrible timing.

Since we had planned to have 18 people in the house on Sunday for Ostara.

I don’t celebrate Easter — not being Christian will do that.  But I do celebrate Ostara, and I invite my Clan, my family-who-are-friends-who-are-family to come join me.  Sarah and I cook a bunch of food, hide plastic eggs in the yard, and prepare baskets of chocolate and goodies (and other non-food goodies for those who prefer) for everyone.  And everyone else brings something to share and games to play, and we take a whole afternoon and evening to eat and have fun and spend time together. The kids come, too, and they get their own egg hunt, and then the last few years they’ve vanished into one room to play Legos.

I couldn’t actually tell you how I got the house ready for Ostara this year.  I always get less tidy when I’m heading for and then in a downswing, and this was no exception.  But, this time, I had to fight almost to the point of tears to get up and do things, from the grocery run to setting up chairs.  It was maddening and exhausting and I truly didn’t think I’d manage it. Even with Sarah helping as she could, there’s a freaking metric ton of work to do for that many people in the house.  Cleaning, cooking, organizing…

But then, this is my Clan, my family.

And the truth is, if I’d failed, it would have been okay.

If I had needed to cancel Ostara completely, they’d have understood.  If I’d been okay to host, but couldn’t do the food, someone else would have taken it over for me.  If I’d not been able to set up chairs, someone would have come early to assist (as it is, a few people did come early and they mopped the kitchen for me).  If I’d left the house a mess, everyone would have been fine. There would have been no judging, no disapproval, no blame.

Because this is my Clan, and they are amazing.

I spent a huge portion of the party in whatever room was quietest.  Games happened at our big table upstairs, and I hid out in the downstairs with the people not playing games just talking.  And that was easier than being surrounded by noise. I played with the kids a bit, but less than other years because to have the energy to be good with them was simply beyond me.  I didn’t fuss over the food or the mess once things got going, and I didn’t worry about if everyone was individually fine or having fun or happy. I just…settled into a comfortable niche and let everything else go.

And it was all okay.

I wish everyone in the world had a family like this.  I wish every family was like this. This Clan of mine…it’s based on trust, on respect, and on love.  And there is room for us all to be whatever and whoever we need in it — and we’re all okay with that. So if I am having an off week, or if someone gets horribly sick, or if someone needs help, it’s all fine.  Nobody can be everything to everyone, but there is probably somebody in this group who can be what someone else needs for a little while.

All I really needed on Sunday was to be around my Clan, to sit at the side and see them playing together and having fun, and to know that I was perfectly safe, that I was wanted, that I was loved.  That’s all I needed. And that’s what they give me.

My family is the BEST.

The downswing goes on and I’m as tired and downtrodden and self-hating as I was before, but I know it’s okay.  I know it’s temporary, it’s Brain Out-of-Order Come Back Later time, and it’ll pass. I know that if I get in a jam I can’t handle, or if things go so far sideways I’m falling down, there will be a boatload of people I can reach out to for help, and one of them will come.  I know that tomorrow may not be better, or the day after, but that ‘better’ is out there. And I just have to hang on until I stumble on it.

And one day I’ll open my eyes and go, “huh, that was different” and it will be over.  And I might be annoyed that I missed Ostara and had to spend it in a downswing, but even that is okay.  Because my Clan will be here next Ostara, and the one after that, and all the parties in between. My family isn’t going anywhere, and neither am I.

My downswings are sine curves, so they never truly bottom out and fall off the graph.  They can go pretty damn far down, but not forever. At some point, the graph will curve and I’ll be heading up above the suckitude again.  And, in the meantime, even if it feels like falling, I won’t hit bottom. I’ve got too many people to catch me.

And even my downswing brain can’t take that away from me.


Cartoon song challenges

While March is busy coming in like a lion…

No, scratch that.  See this?

That’s outside my office at 4pm today.  And here’s outside my house shortly thereafter:

March is NOT coming in like a normal lion.  This is March coming in like some kind if Dire Ice Killer Undead Stormspirit Lion.


While March is proving that winter is not yet over in Minnesota (and apparently intends to go out fighting), here’s something else entirely:

First of all, people are awesome.  People who make this stuff, who embrace it, who dive into the fun and nerdy and fantastically wonderful are AWESOME.

Second of all, I have so much respect for whoever composed that piece and made it all work.  I do a little of that at the end of the year for the TCWC and it is HARD.

Third of all, what I really want to know is this —

Can anybody actually sing the lyrics of every song all the way through?  Because I can’t, and I’ve tried. But I also don’t KNOW all the songs. I can track what all the themes are, but some of them are from things I’ve never watched and don’t even know if they have lyrics to start with.  I keep meaning to look up the ones I don’t already know so I can finish it in my head, but…

This is what I do when I’m bored sometimes.  Find something like this and learn it cold.

I’ve already (mostly) mastered my ultimate favorite:

Although, if I’m going to get off, which I do about 60% of the time, it always happens right at Guinea-Bissau.  I get that far and then just…pleh. I usually miss a few beats to swear in frustration and then I come back in at Crete and, according to Sarah, sound very pissed off until the end, as if everything from there on has personally offended me — which it hasn’t, of course.

But if Rob Paulsen can do it, why can’t I?

Oh, wait.

Because he’s AMAZING.

Never mind.

These random thoughts and more during a snowstorm.  Welcome to March!


Rebalancing My Writing Triad

I tend to believe that the ability to write a good story is born out of three separate facets: inspiration/creativity, skill (maybe also talent), and discipline.  You have to have an idea worth writing about, first of all, an idea strong enough to carry you from beginning to end whether you’re writing a 1,000 word drabble or a series of novels.  You have to have the ability to write a story well, balancing rhythm and plot, avoiding the black hole that is exposition, and knowing how to get the raw idea into words on a page that are in the order you intend.  And you must have the inner discipline to get it done.

For all of 2017, I struggled with writing.  Ultimately, I was able to bang out my goal 1 of 3 that I carry any given year, but neither of the other two.

Goal 1 = produce one chapter/oneshot per week to post in the following year, a total of 47 weeks of content (since I don’t post around the TCWC concert or CONvergence or the holidays).

Goal 2 = produce a minimum of 300,000 words.

Goal 3 = write an original novel

Yeah, I know, it’s ambitious as hell to have that sitting there on my shoulders year after year.  But the only way I get better is by working harder, and the only way I work harder is by pushing myself.

The thing is that, in 2017, I didn’t run out of ideas, and I didn’t lose any ability to create words and put them down in order.  But my sense of inner discipline suffered hugely due to all the stress around the things that happened in 2017 and the world it became.  This wasn’t “eh, I don’t feel like it” — it was “I can’t get a deep breath because I’m in a near-constant state of low-grade anxiety attack and who can think about one thing when everything else is happening?”

I know for a fact I’m not the only writer who had a year like that.

The discipline I’d honed in the years prior held me up and I got things done even when it seemed impossible.  I pushed through, I made Goal 1, and I’m happy with the content that is going up this year as a result.

But that push also exhausted me.

It’s the end of February 2018 right now.  In the past, eh, 5 years, I’ve written a novel in the Jan-Feb block pretty consistently.  But this year, I’ve definitely been feeling the effects of burnout.  I have no fewer ideas, but the mental and emotional energy to make anything happen with them has been low (also, the world has not improved much, so all that anxiety remains).

I decided I needed to do something really different to break the cycle of exhaustion and to give my brain a different stimulus than my usual “write write write!”

So, last week I made a list of 47 fandoms with which I feel mostly comfortable, one for every week of posting that will be needed in 2019.  Then I combined about 4 different lists of writing prompts.  Some random number generation and cross-referencing later, and I ended up with a list of 47 fandoms with a prompt next to each and every one.

My new goal is to write a oneshot for each of these fandom/prompt pairings.  I’m going to try to keep them all around 5,000 words or more, but I’m not asking myself to turn any one of them into a novel.  They’re just oneshots.  Short, sweet, fun stories.

For me, it’s like exercising a really different muscle.  Writing at length takes a certain mix of skill and focus and long-term planning.  I have to plant seeds even if I don’t know what they’re going to grow into or how I’m going to use their fruits later on.  But writing short stories feels like a burst of energy and focus, like lighting a firework and letting it explode, rather than having to till the land, plant the flowerbed, water it, weed it, and wait for it to grow.

I started this new process last Wednesday.  Since then, I’ve completed 2 of the oneshots and written more than I did the entire months of January and February until that point.  And I feel energized again.

It’s kind of a weird exercise, and weirder still for me to think that I might go this entire year without writing a novel.  On the other hand, if I get these 47 oneshots done quickly, I might have the end of my year completely free and clear of any pressure (since the 2019 Goal 1 will be done) and might find a novel in me yet.

What I’m learning about myself is that I really can write no matter the circumstances.  If it’s hard, I still get it done, even if it’s like dragging thorns out of my skin to get there.  If it’s easy, it flows from me as easily as breathing.  And sometimes I need to change the rules of the game to keep myself in the best shape.

My writing triad is in pretty good shape, even if I’ve had to bend it a bit in the last year and a half.  I’m still full of ideas and the will to write.  I still love the language and the act of putting thoughts into words.  And I still have the drive to push, to make writing happen no matter what.  I had to tip the triad up and balance it on a different point to make it stable for now, but that’s okay.

Maybe it’s not so much a triangle as a wheel, and once I soften those edges, it’ll get back to rolling along.

Writing is such a journey to me.  It’s an innate part of who I am and how I interact with the world beyond the TCWC or CVG or the people in my life.  It’s inscribed in my heart and stamped on my soul.  “Property of Writing.”  I belong to it as much as it could ever belong to me.  And through writing, I have found better parts of myself.  I’ve *created* better parts of myself.

It’s not *easy.*  Of course not.  Nothing worth having ever is.

And writing?  Is definitely worth it.

Even one short story at a time.


We Are

Dr Ysaye Barnwell, composer for Sweet Honey in the Rock, has written some of the most inspiring, moving, powerful songs I’ve ever had the privilege to sing.  From her soul comes “Would You Harbor Me?” and “Wanting Memories” and “No Mirrors in my Nana’s House.”

If you don’t know them, go find them.  The originals, if you can.  Lots of choirs, mine included, sing them, but there is nothing like hearing them in the voice of Dr Barnwell herself.

One of those songs was one the TCWC performed a few weeks ago.  And also a few years ago.  It is just one of those songs that stays in my heart.

When stuff gets hard, or the world turns cold and dark and cruel, or when I just need to remind myself WHY IT ALL MATTERS, this is one of those songs that reminds me.

We Are

For each child that’s born, a morning star rises
and sings to the universe
who we are.

We are our grandmothers’ prayers.
We are our grandfathers’ dreamings.
We are the breath of our ancestors.
We are the spirit of God.

We are
Mothers of courage
Fathers of time
Daughters of dust
Sons of great vision.

We are
Sisters of mercy
Brothers of love
Lovers of life and
the builders of nations.

We are
Seekers of truth
Keepers of faith
Makers of peace and
the wisdom of ages.

We are our grandmothers’ prayers.
We are our grandfathers’ dreamings.
We are the breath of our ancestors.
We are the spirit of God.

For each child that’s born, a morning star rises
and sings to the universe
who we are.



More With Less

Sometimes, I think the whole process of moving out into the world, from childhood to adulthood, from student to member of the workforce, from novice to expert, is all the same process of learning to handle more with less.  More work with less sleep.  More stress with less certainty of success.  More emotional upheaval with less retreat to recover.  More expectations with less room for error.

Eventually, the time comes when a person is going to need something to backfill all the ‘less’ that has been sacrificed to the ‘more.’  And how a person goes about that is as unique as the person.

For me, it kinda depends what I need.

If I need meditation, or just calming the hell down, I turn to this song, specifically written and arranged to help people relax.

If I need a 1 minute giggle, plus some insight into something totally random, I find something from QI.

Or maybe I dig into the archives of MST3K.

If I need my faith in the world restored, I go watch Matt Harding’s videos.

Or maybe this from The Trevor Project.

If I’m feeling nostalgic for the place I grew up, or I want to get emotional and feel the blood thumping adrenaline of my favorite sport, I’ve got the Buffalo Sabres 06-07 season opening.

And that’s just the stuff off the top of my head that helps.  A handful of videos that can reset my head and give me a little more to handle the less.  If I had to, I could list dozens of songs and stories, each of which can bring me back to a better place.  Each of which can make the world seem less heavy and more manageable.

Sometimes you really do just have to buckle down and handle the more with the less you’ve got.

I hope you have your own ways to even the score and get a little more back, too.


Worth Believing In

Let’s just preface this with — when a movie means something to me, I couldn’t give the smallest amount of rat piss whether or not it is deemed “good” by the internet or Rotten Tomatoes or the critics or anyone else.  Meaning isn’t something that gets assigned by a quorum of critics and a weighted score.  Meaning is personal.  Meaning begins and ends with the person who is the “me” at the front of it.

Most of the collective wisdom of the internet will tell you that “Secondhand Lions” is not quite bad enough to be awful.  It’s “schmaltzy.”  It’s “molasses-drenched” (I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds very sticky).  It’s “sentimental.”

Well, fine.  I’m sentimental too.  What’s your point?

But whether or not you fall in love with Robert Duvall and Michael Caine as a pair of retired brothers sitting on a wealth of stories and experience, whether or not you snort every time Haley Joel Osment’s voice cracks at the perfect moment, and whether or not the split narrative of loneliness in Texas and adventure in Africa (complete with B-movie stylings) works for you — there’s something to be gained in this movie.

Shake your head at the rest of it if you will.

But listen when Hub McCann starts to speak.

Around the midpoint of the movie, there is made mention of a speech given by Hub McCann, the “what every boy needs to know about being a man” speech.  Which, truly, should be reframed as “what everyone needs to know about being a good person” because there is nothing that applies only to men here, and everything that applies to us all.  We only get a piece of it, but it’s more than enough:

Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things that a man needs to believe in the most — that people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love, true love, never dies.  No matter if they’re true or not, a man should believe in those things because those are the things worth believing in.

This speech, like the “invincible spell” of my favorite anime magical girl, has stuck with me a long, long time.

I am a deep, old-school believer in things like courtesy and honor.  I believe in treating others gently, with full respect, and with sincere kindness — no matter how I feel about the kind of day I’m having or how I felt one moment before I looked into their face.  I believe that every time I give my word, that is an unbreakable vow and oath; if I say I will do something, even if it is difficult, even if it comes late, even if it has to be shuttled amidst all the wreckage of my life, I will get it done.  I believe in the promises that bind people, and I believe in leaving every encounter, every person, every place, every situation, better than I found it.

These are the things I choose to believe in, because, to me, they are worth the effort of that belief.

And it doesn’t matter that the person right behind me in line will be unkind to the cashier, or that I may keep a promise, but someone may not keep one to me.  It doesn’t matter that someone weaves through traffic igniting ire and frustration in their wake.  It doesn’t matter that the weight of my word given may mean little or nothing to the stranger who receives it.

I can’t control the other people in line, or the rude driver, or the person whose promise will never be kept.  I can only control myself, and give into the world that which I believe is worth giving.  So I give my best.  I give my kindest.  I give my honor.  Even if I never get them back.

So I choose to believe that the rude person in the check-out line is deeply worried about money and is stressed and not sleeping, and has no more emotional energy to show respect.  I choose to believe that the dangerous driver is racing to get to someone in need, perhaps a hospital, perhaps a child who is scared and alone.  I choose to believe that the broken promise is not broken maliciously, but at the end of someone’s rope, a choice and a sacrifice made so that something more important may be accomplished instead.

And therefore I smile at the cashier, and hope my smile will be what they remember at the end of the day.  I repeat my mantra for rude or inconsiderate driver, which is “may you get where you’re going safely and harm none on your way” because that’s the only thing that matters in the end, and I forgive the broken promise.  It’s not self-indulgence or being holier-than-thou.  It’s not me being smug that I have done the right thing and someone else has not.

I choose to believe in the best of people.  Because people are worth believing in.

For every human being who is terrible, who is selfish, who is cruel, who is callous, there are people who are gloriously kind and loving and selfless and generous and true.  And I will not let myself be counted amongst those too caught up in the world inside myself to remember the worlds inside others.  I will be the best damn human being I can, and I will treat everyone who crosses my path with that much dignity and respect and kindness, until I have no breath or blood left.  I choose to believe that people are amazing, that people are capable of fantastic good, that people all have something of value, something unique, to share and give.

Because any alternative is not worth believing in.

And you know what?

I’ve yet to be proven wrong.

When I tell my CONvergence team that I think they’re awesome, that’s not hyperbole.  That’s not false praise.  It’s because they astound me with the work they’re willing to do, with the efforts they undertake, with the kindness, dedication, focus, effort they bring to our team and our convention.  When I tell my team that they are a group of people I trust and respect and cannot wait to work with, it’s because they are, and it’s all true.

It’s been said that a person becomes what they believe themself to be.  And that’s certainly true — but it lacks the active part of choosing to believe.  We don’t just become what we think.  We become what we do.

I choose to believe in honor and courtesy and kindness and respect, and that is what I will do in this world.

But we also become what others believe about us.  And when my CONvergence team tells me that they trust me, that they respect me, then I become a better member of the team.  When they tell me that I am doing my job well and am helpful in adding my part to our collective efforts, then I am able to do even better and double down on my efforts.

I think we all become some mix of what we choose to believe, and of what others choose to believe.

But we can only choose for ourselves.

So I choose to believe in the things worth believing in, and I choose to believe in the inherent goodness and value of people.  People on the street, in the store, in their cars, in the hallways, in the world.  Doesn’t matter if it’s true or not for every single one of them on every single day of their lives.

People are always worth the effort of belief.  Always.


Winter Nights

It’s the kind of night where Minnesota shows the world what winter looks like up here.  It’s not too cold, actually, hanging out in the 20s, which, for Minnesota, is FANTASTIC.  But it’s been snowing heavily all day and will continue until midnight, and the snow that falls is thick and wet and heavy.  And it lands on a slick layer of ice, so the roads are nigh impassable.  They’re calling it “snow/freezing fog.”  That’s about right.

Nights like this can be cozy.  I settle in on my favorite couch spot under a pile of blankets and surrounded by books and my laptop and a few snacks.  There’s hockey on tonight, and many shows recorded, and Sarah’s been playing a lot of Minecraft on the TV when we get tired of either.

But I always sense something deeper in the snowy nights in the winters of the north.  Something old, that taps into the instincts of survival and exploration.  Something that whispers with the voice of pioneers and settlers and the peoples who were here first.

The snow makes the world seem quiet and still once I’m safe inside.  And it makes me feel like I’m snug in a nest, in a den, in a burrow.  I can understand why animals hibernate, why people in the time before gas and electric heat spent evenings like this under blankets cuddling by firelight.

The world holds still, its breath suspended in the cold and dark with only the wind and falling snow to track the time.

I’ve never lived a winter anywhere but in the north, be it in western New York or here in Minnesota.  And for as long as I can remember, I’ve felt the quiet of these nights in my very bones.  Almost an invitation to reflect and to rest.  The world isn’t going anywhere.  My heart can curl up and sleep.

The cats seem to agree.

If you’re anywhere in the path of this storm, or any other, be safe out there.  All the peace and calm of the winter comes from the safe, warm places behind windowpanes.  Please take care until you get there.  The roads are pure suckitude.

But the front yard is lovely.

(And the front step is literally 3 feet deep in a drift.  Gonna make for some interesting shoveling tomorrow!)


More Precious, Indeed

In college, I took an entire course on the political philosophy and thought of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.  I have so many copies of speeches and letters and articles, excerpts from books and the books themselves, and, of course, the very famous Letter from Birmingham Jail, 1963.  But to honor this man, his work, and the dream he stood for — the dream we are still chasing even today — what I would like to highlight are some passages from his acceptance speech on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 1964 (as provided by the Nobel Foundation online, reproduced verbatim).

The words belong to a truly magnificent man.  The emphasis is my own.

I accept the Nobel Prize for Peace at a moment when 22 million Negroes of the United States of America are engaged in a creative battle to end the long night of racial injustice. I accept this award on behalf of a civil rights movement which is moving with determination and a majestic scorn for risk and danger to establish a reign of freedom and a rule of justice. I am mindful that only yesterday in Birmingham, Alabama, our children, crying out for brotherhood, were answered with fire hoses, snarling dogs and even death. I am mindful that only yesterday in Philadelphia, Mississippi, young people seeking to secure the right to vote were brutalized and murdered. And only yesterday more than 40 houses of worship in the State of Mississippi alone were bombed or burned because they offered a sanctuary to those who would not accept segregation. I am mindful that debilitating and grinding poverty afflicts my people and chains them to the lowest rung of the economic ladder.

Therefore, I must ask why this prize is awarded to a movement which is beleaguered and committed to unrelenting struggle; to a movement which has not won the very peace and brotherhood which is the essence of the Nobel Prize.

After contemplation, I conclude that this award which I receive on behalf of that movement is a profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time – the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression. Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts. Negroes of the United States, following the people of India, have demonstrated that nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation. Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

The tortuous road which has led from Montgomery, Alabama to Oslo bears witness to this truth. This is a road over which millions of Negroes are travelling to find a new sense of dignity. This same road has opened for all Americans a new era of progress and hope. It has led to a new Civil Rights Bill, and it will, I am convinced, be widened and lengthened into a super highway of justice as Negro and white men in increasing numbers create alliances to overcome their common problems.

I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the “isness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “oughtness” that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. “And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.” I still believe that We Shall overcome!

This faith can give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom. When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, we will know that we are living in the creative turmoil of a genuine civilization struggling to be born.

Today I come to Oslo as a trustee, inspired and with renewed dedication to humanity. I accept this prize on behalf of all men who love peace and brotherhood. I say I come as a trustee, for in the depths of my heart I am aware that this prize is much more than an honor to me personally.

Every time I take a flight, I am always mindful of the many people who make a successful journey possible – the known pilots and the unknown ground crew.

So you honor the dedicated pilots of our struggle who have sat at the controls as the freedom movement soared into orbit. You honor, once again, Chief Lutuli of South Africa, whose struggles with and for his people, are still met with the most brutal expression of man’s inhumanity to man. You honor the ground crew without whose labor and sacrifices the jet flights to freedom could never have left the earth. Most of these people will never make the headline and their names will not appear in Who’s Who. Yet when years have rolled past and when the blazing light of truth is focused on this marvellous age in which we live – men and women will know and children will be taught that we have a finer land, a better people, a more noble civilization – because these humble children of God were willing to suffer for righteousness’ sake.

I think Alfred Nobel would know what I mean when I say that I accept this award in the spirit of a curator of some precious heirloom which he holds in trust for its true owners – all those to whom beauty is truth and truth beauty – and in whose eyes the beauty of genuine brotherhood and peace is more precious than diamonds or silver or gold.

For myself, I can only say that I wish with all my heart we had not lost him so soon, that I think ours would be a better world and a better society if we had been given more time with this man, with his wisdom and his integrity, and most of all his fierce courage.

And above all, I wish I could say we live now in the world he envisioned.

But I can promise to keep working towards it.


The Wheel Turns; Darkness Into Light

Welcome to the new year!

I hope everyone had something fun or exciting or heartwarming over the holiday season — which is also the time when the Northern Hemisphere meets and endures its longest night of the year and begins to slowly spin back towards warmth and light.  For me, I had a few highlights throughout the holidays, but the best part by far was my NYE party.

We had a fluctuating number as some had to leave early and others came late, but I think all told we had 14-16 people in the house eating dessert, exchanging gifts, and playing games to bid GOODBYE WE WILL NOT MISS YOU to 2017 and SOME IMPROVEMENT WOULD BE GOOD HERE 2018.  Which we did with the use of fire.  And piñatas.

I bought a pair of piñatas, a 1 and a 7.  Throughout the party, people wrote things on slips of paper and notecards and whatever else they chose — things they wanted to banish, things they wanted to release, things they wished to leave behind — and stuffed them in the piñatas.  People wrote lists, or the same grievance over and over, and I think at least one person fed an angry word in letter by letter.  We even took “orders” from our cousin party being held by some friends a few states away.

And at midnight, we took the piñatas outside in the -15 degree weather or whatever it was, and burned them to ashes.

It’s very therapeutic.  To take the frustrations and fears of the year that was and to let them go, to watch them be unmade and cast into the midnight sky.  To set down the burdens of one year and feel them melt from the shoulders — only to make room to carry new weight in the days and weeks to come, probably.  But it’s nice.  It’s not spectacular, and it’s not super dramatic, but it feels good to watch those feelings and experiences and shadows burn.

Maybe next year, if it isn’t -15 degrees, we’ll do a bigger fire and toast marshmallows.  That seems fair, right?

Personally, I’m still lobbying for a green or purple fire, too, but that’s tougher.  Luckily we have a designated friend-as-fire-marshal, and he handles that complicated stuff.  I just provide the piñatas and the backyard.

The thing about our NYE party is that it has evolved over the years.  A decade ago, it would be just Sarah and I and a friend some years, watching movies all night.  Then we started to gather with greater numbers of people, to make it more of an event.  In the last few, it’s become an all-out party which doubles as the friends gift-giving celebration for those who attend.  For the last 2 years, I’ve added an element of Christmas stockings.

Which is to say, for every person who comes to the party (or who is connected to this friends-family in some way), I make them a stocking.  A few people have real ones we hang on the mantle — those are the people who look to me and my house as their alternate home.  But for everyone there is a bag of candy and an orange and some nuts (the latter 2 from German tradition) and something else.  This year, I gave people CDs.

Half the friends-family got funny CDs of, well, this.

The other half got a CD mix I made.

I know, I know, that’s so 2003.  Whatever.  It seems silly to buy flash drives to hand out 17 songs as a playlist, and I just don’t do streaming music yet.  If anybody has a better idea, I’ll gladly hear it out.  Until then, CDs.

The mix I made for them is one I really like, and it has a lot in it that carried me through last year and will continue to carry me into 2018.  I called it “Light in the World” because, at heart, it’s a mix of songs either about the light that is already in the world — love, kindness, courage, honor — or songs about hanging onto and nurturing the light within when such light is needed against a colder world.

In the end, we’re all only what we give to the people in our lives, to the world beyond our immediate circle, and to the future yet to come.  And I, as I have said before, intend to give light.  And love.  And hope.

So here is the mix I made:

The World As I See It by Jason Mraz
Bridge Over Troubled Water by Gregorian
I’ll Be The Light by Colton Dixon
So Alive by The Goo Goo Dolls
Fearless by Kat Perkins
Kinder by Copper Wimmin
Courage (Come Out To Play) by Justin Hines
Say Geronimo by Sheppard
Shatter Me (feat. Lzzy Hale) by Lindsey Stirling
I Am the Fire by Halestorm
The Light by Disturbed
Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself by Jess Glynne
Over and Over by The Goo Goo Dolls
Life is Wonderful by Jason Mraz
Weightless by Courtney Jones
Fly to Paradise by the Eric Whitacre Singers
O Fortuna by Gregorian

You might wonder at that last track.  “O Fortuna” is not a song about light, or courage, or standing up against the dark.  The Wikipedia translation of it is:

O Fortune,
like the moon you are changeable,
ever waxing or waning;
hateful life first oppresses
and then soothes as fancy takes it;
poverty and power
it melts them like ice.

Fate – monstrous and empty,
you whirling wheel,
you are malevolent,
well-being is vain and always fades to nothing,
shadowed and veiled you plague me too;
now through the game
I bring my bare back to your villainy.

Fate is against me
in health and virtue,
driven on and weighted down, always enslaved.
So at this hour, without delay,
pluck the vibrating strings;
since Fate strikes down the strong one,
everyone weep with me!

Not light, right?  It’s a lament, a cry for others to see the cruelty that Fate has dealt and sympathize.  A testament of injustice and unfairness.

Uplifting?  Well, the song itself it, but not in the context of its meaning.

But for me, that’s WHY this song is important in this mix.  Because you can have all the courage you want, can be armed with kindness and honor, can breathe light and sing hope through your veins, but eventually random chance and events beyond your control *will* take their toll.  You can skip through life on the road of ideals, head full of dreams and optimism, but someday the rocks of reality are going to come down on your head.

What matters is what you do next.

If — and when — Fate strikes down the strong person, what does the strong person do?

What choice do you make?

Do you weep and cry that Fate is unfair?  Do you curl up and surrender?  Do you blame the unkindness of Fate and petulantly refuse to accept the truth?

Because dark and light cannot exist without one another.  Hope doesn’t have power unless it has been born by overcoming despair.  Courage cannot be strong unless it is forged in fear.  Kindness has no meaning if it is insincere.

“O Fortuna” is the last track on the CD because it leaves the unanswered question for the listener:

In the face of callousness, of despair, of cruelty, will you stand up and be counted amongst the kind, the loving, and the brave?

What will you choose for 2018?